Post-Scarcity Does Not Mean Post-Work
Daniel Altman is Big Think's Chief Economist and an adjunct faculty member at New York University's Stern School of Business. Daniel wrote economic commentary for The Economist, The New York Times, and The International Herald Tribune before founding North Yard Economics, a non-profit consulting firm serving developing countries, in 2008. In between, he served as an economic advisor in the British government and wrote four books, most recently Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy.
Does the rise of the robots doom us all to unemployment? The answer is most certainly no. Provocative claims that the United States has reached “peak jobs” and will soon be a “post-scarcity economy” neglect an essential part of the reason why we work.
By now you’ve probably heard the argument that robots won’t do away with jobs because we’ll use them to do better jobs. That’s been the result of advances in technology throughout human history, and especially since the Industrial Revolution. So at least some of us – those capable of commanding robots – will have more productive jobs than ever.
But if robots are exceptionally good at their jobs, and we can use them to make just about everything, then another argument suggests that we won’t actually need to work. Many of us will choose to be creatures of leisure, free to think deep thoughts, or at least play games on our smartphones, while our earthly needs are tended to by machines. Such was the controversial yet eerily believable premise of the movie “Wall-E”, at any rate.
The problem with these predictions is that providing for basic needs is not the only thing that compels us to work. We also like to follow through on our ideas by achieving goals that make us proud, creating new products to improve our lives, and feeling the thrill of power and control. In short, opportunity to do all these things can be as important as material compensation.
It’s surprising that this simple observation has eluded the post-scarcity futurists. The idea that opportunity means as much as money is hardly new, and it is already being applied by companies and governments.
For instance, Google encourages its employees to spend one day a week on their own projects. Some experts believe that the ideas generated this way could not possibly make up for the cost of paying thousands of people five days a week for four days of work on corporate priorities. Yet the policy is likely to give Google a big advantage in recruiting workers, who undoubtedly appreciate the freedom to use the company’s resources as they choose. It may also allow Google to pay them less.
As chancellor of New York City’s public school system, Joel Klein also realized how independence in the workplace could act as an incentive for performance. Rather than pulling funding from failing schools, he took direct control of them. And rather than rewarding successful schools solely with money – which many did not need – he gave them more power to choose their own styles of education.
Even when the day comes that we can count on a comfortable lifestyle regardless of our income, we will still work to fulfill our personal goals and, of course, to keep up with the Joneses. Indeed, we’ve already seen a lifelike projection of this very situation. Those folks on “Star Trek” could make anything they wanted in their replicators and travel thousands of miles at the push of a button in their transporters, but they still put in a hard shift every day – and no one wondered why.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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